An Encouraging Word — Doubt is no excuse to quit

Thomas was not with them when Jesus stood in their midst the first time. When the others told him about it, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my fingers in the holes, I will not believe.” A week later, Thomas was with them when Jesus came and stood in their midst. John 20:19-31

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

One of the things that happens when you read the Bible on a regular basis, like I do in preparation for preaching, is that even familiar passages speak to you in new ways.

It happened again when I read the story of St. Thomas, who was not there with the others when Jesus first appeared to them, and refused to believe them until he had physical proof.

What I noticed this time was that Thomas kept meeting with them even when he doubted!

He didn’t say, “Jesus was here? Ridiculous! He’s dead! You’re delusional! I’m outta here!” No, it says he was with them the next time.

What Thomas did was pretty much the opposite of what we do when he have doubts. When we doubt, we quit joining the community. We assume that joining the faith community is only for those who believe, for those without doubt. Not St. Thomas. He kept joining them, even when he doubted.

The first thing many people assume about faith is that doubt is the opposite of faith. Not true. Honest doubt is not the opposite of faith. Honest doubt is actually an integral part of faith. We know from many of the post-Easter readings that honest doubt was part of the faith, even the faith of those who were closest to Jesus.

The disciples are presented as very skeptical about Mary Magdalen’s story about seeing Jesus alive on that first Easter Sunday morning. Thomas flat-out refused to believe until he was given the opportunity to touch Jesus.

On the road to Emmaus, other disciples were “astounded” by the report of Jesus being seen alive. They even failed to recognize him walking right beside them. Even after many reports, even after having seen him themselves, we are told in Matthew’s gospel that some worshipped, even as they doubted.

The bigger question than whether doubt is part of faith, is what to do about doubt. Many, when they doubt, say to themselves, “It is hypocritical for me to pretend to believe when I really don’t believe. When I start believing, when my faith is strong again, then it will make sense for me to start praying and worshipping again.”

That may sound good, even reasonable, but that’s not how it works. As Thomas teaches us today, what really works is for us to gather with believers until we believe.

Just like a single hot coal, pulled away from a heap of burning coals, soon loses its heat, a doubter separated from the community of believers tends to lose even what faith he has.

Faith begets faith and doubt begets doubt.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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